PESHAWAR: Bobby Singh Bansal, a UK-based historian, author and filmmaker who is considered one of the chief authorities on Sikh heritage in Pakistan, has said that 90 per cent of the Sikh heritage sites are in Pakistan, mostly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
In a first guest-talk of its kind in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa before a packed audience at the Victoria Memorial Hall of Peshawar Museum, the scholar gave details about Sikh heritage sites in the region and their tourism potential in KP.
The event was organised by the Directorate of Archaeology, its partners and local Sikh community. Senior minister for tourism Mohammad Atif Khan and officials of the tourism and archaeology departments and representatives of Sikh community also attended the function.
Mr Bansal narrated his experiences of visiting KP since 1980s and subsequent research which led him to visit and document all the Sikh monuments in KP from 2007 to 2019.
“From Kartarpur to Khyber Pass,” the author took audience on an exciting and informative journey through a historic landscape dotted with Sikh-era monuments, forts, battlefields, shrines, tombs, gurdwaras and havelis.
He talked about personalities associated with the region, particularly General Hari Singh Nalwa and Akali Phoola Singh. Both died in KP and their tombs (samadhis) are here.
The lecture talks about adventure and military tourism built around Sikh-era forts such as Balahisar, Shabqadar, Bara, Lockhart, Kohat, Bannu, Dera Ismail Khan, Jamrud, Khairabad, Oghi, Mansehra and others.
“These places should be on Sikh tourist map of KP. This topic is of particular interest to the Sikh diaspora from around the world who would like to travel to KP and be part of organised tours to be able to view this shared heritage,” he proposed.
Talking about challenges, Mr Bansal said that Sikh Yatrees (on pilgrim visa) were not allowed to go westwards beyond Attock. He said that Sikhs from western countries like US, Canada, Europe, Middle East, Far East and Australia on tourist type visa still faced unnecessary issues of NOC permissions.
He said that essential groundwork of conducting organised Sikh tours in KP was direly needed. In addition, he suggested that image building and marketing needed to be done on the ground to ensure that Sikh tourism prospered.
He said that the provincial archaeology department and the Pakistan Army were major stakeholders in preservation and conservation of Sikh-era monuments in the province as military was the custodian of most forts in KP.
He insisted that the tourism department should provide tourist hosting infrastructure and facilities around these sites and smooth out the visa process for Sikhs.
With the support of tourism department and the Directorate of Archaeology and Museums, KP, and active involvement of the public and private sector stakeholders, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is looking forward to hosting and greeting Sikh tourists with open arms and traditional hospitality.
Published in Dawn, November 23rd, 2019